UK: Q&A: Women In Business

Last Updated: 21 November 2014
Article by Smith & Williamson

Enterprise talks to three entrepreneurial women to find out what has contributed to their success.

Sherry Coutu CBE is an angel investor and serves on the boards of companies, charities and universities. She is co-chairman of Silicon Valley Comes to the UK (SVC2UK) and set up Founders4Schools in 2012.

Kanya King MBE is an entrepreneur, founder of the MOBO Awards and CEO of MOBO Group. She appeared alongside four multi-millionaire panel members in the ITV series Fortune - Million Pound Giveaway, which awarded 'contestants' no-strings grants based on the merits of their pitch.

Dale Murray CBE is an award-winning angel investor. She was formerly a successful entrepreneur in the mobile telecoms sector and was part of the founding team that launched Vodafone NZ.

What's the best and worst career decision you've ever made?

Kanya King: "Although it was a huge risk, the decision to remortgage my house to fund the very first MOBO Awards show in 1996, turned out to be the best decision I've ever made. A risk I wouldn't advise anyone to take, however it did pay off for me as the first show was the seed for everything we have gone on to do. If you're not making mistakes, you're not taking risks and that means you're not going anywhere. The key is to learn from your mistakes and keep moving ahead."

Dale Murray: "My best career decision was to join BellSouth NZ (now Vodafone NZ) as one of the managers in this startup. We had to build a mobile phone network and launch the company. This immersion in a massive start-up set me on an entrepreneurial career path. My worst was taking a chairman role of a struggling, angel-backed small company. There were so many entrenched positions and I had no control - only the ability to influence people who were thinking emotionally, not rationally. It was very frustrating."

Sherry Coutu: "My best was to join a startup. It gave me the confidence to start my own at a later date. My worst was joining a large corporate as a strategy director right after business school. I shouldn't have gone to a big company."

What do you think is the biggest barrier to female entrepreneurship?

SC: "Lack of role models to inspire and give girls confidence in their own abilities."

KK: "The biggest barriers for women may be confidence and mindset. You can have all the skills in the world, but if you don't have the right mindset to succeed, chances are you're probably not going to. What is crucial therefore is that we create an environment where we're able to develop strategies, confidence and self-esteem alongside gaining those essential qualifications so that women can enter into business feeling empowered whilst also taking more risks."

"Only 5% of venture funding goes to female-led businesses, though women create 40% of all new businesses."

Dale Murray CBE

DM: "Access to finance. Only 5% of venture funding goes to female-led businesses, though women create 40% of all new businesses. If women don't seek or are unable to attract capital to grow, then it's going to be very difficult to get similar levels of wealth creation through entrepreneurship as men."

Which female inspired you?

SC: "Dame Steve Shirley, an inspirational British businesswoman and philanthropist who founded the software company FI Group."

KK: "My Mum. She was the most caring yet strongest woman I've ever known. She overcame so much in her life that I knew from a young age that with the right attitude you can face any challenge presented to you head on. She eventually set up her own business at the age of 70 having dreamt about it her whole life. She was without a shadow of a doubt my greatest role model."

DM: "The sheer effectiveness of Sheryl Sandberg inspires me now, but in the past I never really looked for role models. I was pretty focused on putting my head down and building a profitable business."

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

DM: "A non-executive board director in my company told me we should just run a forecast with zero growth – assume you're not going to grow revenue at all and then work out if you can trim costs to make the thing work. I understand why he wanted me to do it, but it really made me mad because it showed me that he'd lost faith in our growth story. In the end, the advice was good because I ran the zero-growth forecast, giving him comfort on what he wanted, while I used his pessimism as more fuel for my determination."

"You can have all the skills in the world, but if you don't have the right mindset to succeed, chances are you're probably not going to."

Kanya King MBE

KK: "My mother used to say that when the right advisers are many, plans succeed. When you run your own business, it's key to have the right support team. No matter how experienced you are, you can't expect to have all the skills and knowledge your business needs, particularly as requirements change as your business grows. For growing businesses, continually facing new problems and opportunities, the need for advice will only increase. Different types of advisers can offer different skills and services in different ways."

SC: "That I should not want to be a lawyer because attention to detail was not my strong point. The same person told me I should run businesses."

How can we encourage future generations of female entrepreneurs?

DM: "There do seem to be some factors that uniquely restrain growth in women-led businesses, on average, such as the fact that they're less likely to take on debt, or that they may employ fewer staff. I'd like to see even more encouragement of female entrepreneurs and practical help with things like the costs of childcare – maybe it should be tax-deductible against your business earnings?"

SC: "Show them how many women are starting businesses, how successful they have been, and what a high impact and empowering career being an entrepreneur is."

KK: "A good place to start would be our education system. It helps to have successful entrepreneurs come in to speak to young people about the specific challenges faced as a female business owner and how to overcome them. I would include young men here too, because I feel men also need to be educated about the value of the business woman. It's at this stage that if young women are presented with good role models, they can be inspired to take their own entrepreneurial paths and seek the advice of those that have 'been there and done that'. Young people who demonstrate entrepreneurial interest and talent early on should be encouraged down that path as much as possible."

We have taken great care to ensure the accuracy of this newsletter. However, the newsletter is written in general terms and you are strongly recommended to seek specific advice before taking any action based on the information it contains. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication.

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